If you like romances heavy on the plot--even if character-based--and with a side of politics and history, like I do, this is for you. That is to say, the romance is fluffy and perfectly satisfying, holding the ust until it should and keeping you interested until the last pay-off, but the way Cole balances it with the context is sheer brilliance.
Full review at #13 Fluff Potatoes
Romance is not my go to genre but I did have fun with this. Elle Burns is working as a spy and she crosses paths with a Pinkerton detective. Sparks fly and there is still a mission to complete. Elle’s very much her own woman with her own mind and Malcolm is very much the ideal man but also recognizes his own position and privilege too. They were a fun pair to follow and I think I may be up for more.
I'm finding more and more that the best historical romances are the ones that put as much emphasis on the history as well as the romance. This book is an excellent example of this and I'm so glad that Alyssa Cole tacked both the genre and the Civil War itself, despite the misgivings she mentions in her author's note (also, I love historical romances with author's notes!).
Elle is an absolutely wonderful character who felt so real, both from being based on a real person and from the depth that Cole imbues her with. Her struggle to deal with constant racism, risk of discovery, and everything else, on top of an unexpected romance, is so well handled and it makes the stakes of this book so much more than "will they get together" (which obviously they will ... this is a romance novel, after all!).
Malcolm is also a great character and the decision to make him a Scottish immigrant who has also dealt with hardship really worked to illustrate why he had such a different view about slaves than even other Union supporters. But I also like that he never gets a free pass and does have to address his own biases and how he was more against slavery as an institution, without seeing the people behind it. Also, he was just a really fun character and it was always a treat to see him try and talk his way out of a situation.
All and all, this is a must-read book for any historical romance fan and for any fan of history period.
3.5 stars rounded up. The story is really unique and it gives me Outlander vibes. I liked the character development and the writing style.
ELLE! I love her! The spycraft in this book was v v good, with some excellent tension and Elle is a very fun heroine. I love her intelligence, and her quippiness. I wasn't a huge fan of the "dude grovels to a pissed-off woman" dynamic early in the novel but once they settled into actually liking each other they really worked for me as a solid SPY COUPLE.
I really liked this because it felt real for its time and because of its interjections and insights that resonated deeply in this current moment. The leads were great. I think, though, that as much as I love historical romance, I feel ambivalent about U.S.-based historical romance because it is too familiar and too real. Give me (White) titled peers in England who only have to think about politics and cultural norms and wars for one chapter because they can—that’s the kind of escapism I would like to inhabit. The Civil War makes it even tougher to read, the actual presence and writing of people of color even more so, but Alyssa Cole does it really well—I just am unsure about my personal ability to handle it in my reading-for-fun moments.
W.O.W. and le yum.
I'd wanted to read this since it first came out -- I've read nothing but raves for it -- and I finally made time to read it thanks to Read Harder 2019. And ohemgee, it really was so good.
I wouldn't have picked this up were it not penned by a woman of color; there's no way the story could have worked. The romance would have been icky -- and Cole doesn't shy away from detailing all the ways it could go icky. Both main characters wrestle -- more than once -- with the society they live in and how it favors our white hero over our brilliant black heroine.
So effing good.
Unlike many action-y romance novels, this one had a legit adventure to the story and was treated as the actual point versus the hooking up of our characters. (I wouldn't have minded more romantic moments between the two, but it wasn't easy for them to arrange.)
Longer review to come, but I'm an insta-Cole fangirl (which is great because she's got so many out!).
Was not expecting to like this as much as I did. Great characters that I fell in love with
I was really excited about this book going in; it seemed like all the things I liked in one place. Romance, spies, the US Civil War! Huzzah!
Unfortunately it sort of managed the Civil War part and the fubbed both the spies and the romance. For me, an adventure romance novel has to balance the plot and the sexual tension so that they work together. This was way to heavy on the romance side, and kept hammering on about how the characters thought constantly of each other, and didn't spend nearly enough time on spying. The supposed superspies manage to meet twice and not exchange any useful spy stuff whatsoever! Also, the hero's contribution to the spying was to do basically nothing useful for the entire book. If he hadn't been there at all, the heroine would not only have done the spy thing, she'd probably have done it better. Both characters should have been really interesting, but the plot failed them.
The writing was really heavy handed. Part of his mission was to charm another woman, so every scene the other woman is in (and she's a total shrew!), he constantly thinks how he doesn't really like her and he wants to be with the heroine. Yes. We know. You told us the first 500 times! You don't constantly have to reassure the reader of something for them to know it. I felt like I was getting spoonfed a lot of the motivation. Also false rape aligation as a major plot point. Delightful.
The book concluded by getting a key fact of the Civil War almost completely wrong. Won't bother with the next one, despite the cliffhanger set up.
Alyssa Cole is an extremely good romance writer. Historical romance as a genre is kind of tough, because you can't deny that the characters will have to face a lot of strife, as will their children, and their grandchildren, and so on. But that aside, this was a gripping, sexy, and overall very enjoyable read.